The Real Sailor's Club
03 March 2014
Terri & Jay Chattaway
February 26, 2014
There is an old saying that one doesn't become a real sailor until they've gone aground. Those words have haunted me. Ground Cadenza! Oh dear, no. No, no, no, no, no. Maybe our 18' Hereshoff Catboat that we can either lift the centerboard or step out of and push her off the sand, but not our 45', 38,000 lb. Hardin! Jay would kill me. Do you know how long it took me for him to let me dock this baby? At the very least, I would be in the doghouse for weeks. Ground Cadenza? Oh, no can't do that. Musn’t do that.
Well, those words won't haunt me any longer. Yesterday, I joined the Real Sailors Club.
The day started out rather uneventful. (Although Jay did catch a Sierra.) We left Caleta San Juanico around 0700 and headed for Bahia Concepcion. The bay, itself, is huge. There are at least a half dozen coves throughout and each one has a little something different to offer. I wanted to anchor in Playa Burro as this is where our weather guru, Geary, lives. Every morning at 0745, he gets on the ham net, Sunrisa, and reports the weather for all of Mexico, as well as what is going on to the north of us in the Pacific Northwest, California and Arizona. His information is invaluable to us sailors and we wanted to say thank you. Besides, we were curious to meet the man behind the voice.
We had a 54 nautical mile journey, so we arrived late in the afternoon. It was high tide. Inside the bay, on the west side, there is a shoal. We were aware of that and were traveling through the middle. I was at the helm for awhile, but then went below to take care of a few things, and so, Jay took over. When I came back topsides, I decided to be a lookout. Besides the shoaling there are several different tiny islands scattered through the bay. Much to look out for.
Suddenly the depths started to drop. From thirty feet to eight feet! (Remember, we draw six feet.) Where to go? Jay slowed down the engine and we checked our charts, chart plotter, and cruising guides. No one noted this kind of minimal depth. Jay put on the radar so it would overlay the Navionics chart and found the chart was about a half mile off. Also, all three of our chart plotters showed us to be in navigable water, 40-50 feet. However, the actual depth was 8-10 feet. Incidentally, the most accurate chart plotter was on the iPad, running Blue Latitude Press, Sea of Cortez charts.
For some unknown reason, I thought we should go more to the west. (Maybe because, ultimately, that is where our destination, Playa Burro, was.) Jay wanted to go east. There was a few minutes of growling between us and then I wisely shut up.
Just about that time, we heard a man on the radio whose handle is Baywatch. Jay called him and asked him for local knowledge. Although not a boater, he was helpful in that he confirmed that the bay does get very shallow, particularly around Punta Arena. He also assured us that once past this area we should be okay. With that information, Jay headed more to the east side of the bay, away from Punta Arena. Slowly, the depth started creeping up. We found sixty feet of water and it stayed that deep all the way until we reached the mouth of Playa Burro.
It was time to get ready to anchor and so I took the helm, as usual. Jay went to the bow of the boat and I was calling off the depths. Pat Raines' book led us to the middle of the bay where we could anchor in twenty feet of water. We also saw four other boats anchored in close to shore, just to the north and to the right of where we were headed. As the depth was dropping to twenty feet, I put the boat in neutral to slow it down.
“Nineteen feet.” I told Jay as I began my turn into the wind.
“Eighteen feet. Sixteen feet. Fifteen. Thirteen. Ten...” I was only half way into my turn when I realized we were in trouble. I started to put the boat in reverse, just as Jay called out for me to do the same.
“Eight feet. Six. Five-five. I don't think we're moving, are we?”
“Reverse! Reverse!” Jay continued to say. (We had our marriage savers on, aka headphones, so no yelling.)
Cadenza wasn't moving. She was aground. Jay came back, took the helm. I sat down, in the corner of the cockpit, up near the dodger, trying to make myself as small as possible, and biting my nails that I never bite. I smartly kept my mouth shut and my face forward. Every once in awhile, I would turn to look at Jay, trying to read his expression as to how desperate of a situation we were in and how angry he might be. All I could tell was that he was focused on getting Cadenza out of the sand as quickly as possible.
Jay went back and forth between reverse and forward trying to swing the bow around into deeper water. He made short bursts, being careful not to raise too much sand and thus draw it into the cooling system. Then, once we were pointed into open water, he revved the engine, again in short bursts, moving us slowly, sort of like hopping, across the sand and into deeper water.
I nervously laughed while looking at Jay for a sign. How angry is he? Am I in the doghouse?
Wow. Not one swear word, not one angry word. He reassured me that it could happen to anyone and fortunately we were able to get back floating, quickly.
“I guess you just joined The Real Sailor's club.” he said.
“Well,” I said, looking at Jay, sheepishly. “It makes for a good story.”
Note: The photo above is how not to anchor at Playa el Burro. We didn't notice this boat until we went ashore. That could have been us. Whew!